Blasting With The Blasters

Saw The Blasters last night at Hopmonk in Novato and they blew the roof off. They’ve been playing for about 40 years now and still have most of their original lineup. The rhythm section is preposterous. One of the best rock and roll drum (Bill Bateman) and bass (John Bazz) teams you’ll ever find. There’s so much subtlety and dynamics and power in their playing – the kind of tightness you get from spending most of your life on the road. The only other time I saw them was in the 1980’s, and I had fond memories of that gig, so naturally I went last night with high expectations. The band exceeded them tenfold. Phil Alvin is in great voice, and lead guitarist Keith Wyatt is an absolute maniac. He played an old gold-top Les Paul through a small combo amp and just went berserk. A completely committed player, he took some long solos that only built in energy and fire and kept building when I thought there was no higher to go. The band scorched along for an hour and ten minutes or so and by the end I had a smile I couldn’t erase if I tried. I went with my old friend and musical partner in crime, Michael Valladares, and after the show we ran into Bateman and Wyatt out back on our way to our ride. We went full fan-boy on ’em and gushed because what else was there to do? We thanked them for a soul-lifting no-bullshit rock n’ roll experience and floated home. Absent was Dave Alvin, who wrote many of their songs, but he was present nonetheless in his songs. A deep catalog of heartfelt rockabilly and rock n’ roll anthems, many of them penned in his youth in Downey, California. There’s something uniquely special about a group of older musicians doing something they’ve spent their lives doing, with joy and abandon, live in concert, in a smallish venue with great sound. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. Catch ’em if you can! That is all.

Drinking A Case Of Joni Mitchell With Pollyana Bush

As a guitar player, I’ve rarely used anything but standard tuning. I don’t even like capos. So it was a new challenge to learn three custom tunings to accompany the amazing and beautiful Pollyana Bush, on three Joni Mitchell songs. This is part of her concert series, “Full Circle, musings on Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King.” We’ve done the gig once in the East Bay, and tomorrow we’re doing it in San Rafael.

One of the songs, “Case Of You” was challenging for another reason – I couldn’t not cry when we were doing it. Ridiculous, no? But seriously, once I got the song down, every time we’d play it and Pollyana started singing, my eyes would be raining. This leveled out after a while and I was composed during the performance. I can’t recall another song/singer ever affecting me in that particular way. Why am I sharing this? Oh, I don’t know, why not.

We’re doing “Case Of You” in an open-G# tuning, and I needed to figure out how to make it sound something like a dulcimer doubling a guitar. Luckily, Pollyana has a Taylor acoustic with a cutaway, which is perfect for this. Another song I’m playing on is “Help Me,” which is open-tuned to C Major 7th. Who does that!? It’s been a great experience learning these songs, and to sort of get a glimpse into Joni Mitchell’s creative process. You couldn’t play these songs in standard tuning, it’s physically impossible. I found myself wondering – does Joni play with the tuning and THEN write a song, or hear a song in her head, and then tune the instrument to fit? Both approaches maybe? She uses so many tunings, and they are wildly different. Now I’m fascinated enough to find some interviews with her, and see if she talks about this. Tackling this was made much easier by the wealth of info provided by Joni Mitchell herself, on her own website.

I’m thrilled to be on this gig, with some amazing cats, including the great Raz Kennedy. Raz called me asking if I knew anyone who could do this kind of guitar playing, a few weeks before the earlier concert. I recommended a few players but none were available, so I started learning the odd tunings to see if I could even get there. It turned out to be a really fun and rewarding guitar lesson, and now, as a consequence of this, I wrote a song in open-G! A good friend told me years ago the day you stop learning is the day you die. I guess I’m still alive.

Here’s the concert info, I think some tickets are still available if you are interested.

Oh, and Pollyana, this happened to your guitar case. But don’t worry, Lucy is very neat and does not have fleas.

Case Of Lucy
Case Of Lucy

What Madness! A Mashup Of Guitar Solos, from Yours Truly

This is a reel of solos I plucked from various records I’ve played on over the years.

Here are the tracks and albums they are from:

1. “Radiation Boy” – The Uptones – Skankin’ Foolz Unite! – 2008
2. “Psychotic Reaction” (Count 5 cover) – The Fashion Slaves – Check Out The Fashion Slaves – 2011
3. “Write A Song About Me” – Matt Jaffe & The Distractions – Blast Off EP – 2015
4. “Sky High” – HOBO album – 1993
5. “Not From Here” – Stiff Richards – Email EP – 1998
6. “Fell In And Out Of Art” – Stiff Richards album – 1996

The Holy Grail Of 8 Bar Rock n’ Roll Guitar Solos

In rock or power-pop music, a guitar solo usually has to explode from the start, take the song’s energy up a notch or eleven, and launch it into the next section. Often this is done in 16 bars or more, but there are some notable examples of short and sweet 8 bar solos which do this beautifully. My favorite 8 bar solo of this type is Mick Ronson’s work on Ian Hunter’s single “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.”

The guitar playing on the entire track is brilliant, starting with an almost comical little drum beat and Chuck Berry style rhythm, building steadily to an ecstatic solo, which sets up the last verse, chorus and outro. I encourage guitarists to try and learn this one. I recently went at it with one of my more advanced young students, and it surprised both of us. This thing is hard to cop! I have spent more time on it than I have spent dissecting much longer solos by virtuoso players like Jeff Beck and Steve Morse. With expert use of amp feedback, note bending, vibrato, and just, insane over-the-top rock passion, Ronson stuffs more energy into this short little outburst than any other short solo I can think of.

Ian_Hunter_once_bittenKnow any others in this category? If so, please post in the comments below! This will be the first of a series of posts on my favorite guitar tracks, some famous, some not so well known. This gem hit the UK singles chart in 1975, peaking at #14. It was later covered by Great White. They had a top 5 in the US with it, but.. well I’ll just let Ian and Mick finish my thought. Nice live footage here, synced to the original studio track. Great hair, too!

100 Greatest Guitarists Ever Voted On By Other Famous Guitarists

While on hold listening to endless hold music this morning, I stumbled upon Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time” list from a few years back. To see if it has any relevance, I checked, and Roy Buchanan isn’t even on it, so it’s puffery. Also they should specify “Rock Guitarists Of The Type Rolling Stone Likes.” I mean, to leave it open as “Guitarists” and not include Andrés Segovia and Charlie Christian is just preposterous. Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery aren’t on it, I mean, shut up. Of course it’s silly and just entertaining content, but, glad I’m not the only one who found it even further off the mark than it should have been. Steve Newton’s take on is fun. Bruce Springsteen? A guitarist? He’s a great songwriter and performer and bandleader and all those things but please. This is a guitar player:

Why I Will NOT See The New Jimi Hendrix Biopic, and I Think We Should All Boycott It

I was skeptical but curious when I learned there’s a biopic about Jimi Hendrix coming out. The fact that there’s no actual Hendrix music in it made me wonder: why bother? After researching it further, I’m appalled and disgusted, and I’m sure I never want to see it. I don’t care whatever they may have gotten “right” – the whole thing is wrong because of one thing: the movie portrays Jimi Hendrix beating up his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. It’s fiction, and Kathy Etchingham is alive and well and denouncing this horrible offense to Jimi Hendrix’s memory.

Why the hell would they do this? What, they think this makes the movie more marketable? They think they have a right to do that? Perhaps their lawyers inform them they have a legal right as it’s free speech etc., but as a Jimi Hendrix fan I reject that, they have no right if truth has any value! I have no idea what brain-damaged decision making process was behind this, but we can’t let it stand. Jimi was an absolute sweetheart, everyone who knew him says so.

Why take artistic license rewriting the life of someone as interesting and entertaining as Jimi Hendrix? And why in the name of all that is right, would you rewrite him as someone who was violent and abusive to his girlfriend? I don’t doubt Andre 3000 did a good job in the role. But the writers failed outright.

Jimi Hendrix did a fine job in his starring role as Jimi Hendrix in real life, a recent and great life, which ended way too soon. And look, this is not like some mystery man, this is not a Robert Johnson who is difficult to research. Hendrix’s life and career are very extensively documented in every kind of media. There are thousands of credible articles, interviews with his friends and family, books, footage, freakin’ postcards, this is just not a person you need to make stuff up about. What, he wasn’t interesting enough?? You have to make him VIOLENT to the woman he wrote “Foxy Lady” and “The Wind Cries Mary” about, to sell more TICKETS maybe?? Is nothing at all safe from stupid, heartless greed? The more I think about it, the more it makes me furious.

Don’t give ’em a nickel. I hope they get properly sued for character defamation or whatever might stick. I’m not a lawyer. But it’s Jimi, man.

If you want to see a good doc on the real Jimi, check out “Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin” on Netflix. Listen to his records. Watch some live footage. Experience the real deal.

Update 7-12-2014:
I neglected to include, the title of the movie is: “All Is By My Side.”
Thanks Alan G. for the heads-up.

Rufus & Chaka Khan – “Tell Me Something Good” Live!

I was looking for the studio version of this and stumbled on a live performance from 1974 that is just amazing. Rufus plays their Stevie Wonder-penned smash, “Tell Me Something Good” in concert. In bell bottoms. With wah-wah pedal. I would not lead you astray. Chaka Khan’s vocal performance is other-planetly.

Leo Nocentelli Breaks Down The Guitar Part On “Cissy Strut”

Thrilled to find this instructional vid from Leo Nocentelli himself, giving a demonstration of his guitar part on The Meters’ classic instrumental, Cissy Strut. This is from “The Secrets Of Funk: Using It And Fusing It!” DVD, available here. I’ve played this tune many times – we used to open with it as a sort of “sound check” number, especially on nights when we walked in without a sound check! You can’t really go wrong with it once you’ve got the swing. But there are some fine details you can hear in this solo rendition that I never quite caught before. Mr. Nocentelli starts it off slow before bringing it up to tempo, and then he mixes in some other Meters funk magic! Definitely today’s guitar lesson post. Check it out:

Beserkley Records Story on Joel Selvin’s Podcast a Great Listen

My good friend Matthew King Kaufman, and bay area rock greats Earth Quake, started Beserkley Records in 1973 in where else, Berkeley! Matthew and his partners nicknamed their label “Home of the Hits” before they ever had a hit. They dubbed their very first album a “Compilation” of “Greatest Hits” called “Chartbusters, Volume 1,” before they ever released anything, much less dented the charts. Matt once released a single called “Silent Knight” which contain 3 minutes of complete silence. It was a success in jukeboxes, because bartenders or waitresses would play it occasionally just to make the music stop for a few minutes. All this may help to explain why Matthew’s record company title has always been “Reigning Looney” instead of “President” or anything else. He is one of a kind, and so was Beserkley Records. Fulfilling their own prophecy, Beserkley had major chartbusting hits in the 70’s and 80’s. As a Berkeley kid himself, Joel Selvin witnessed the story up close from the beginning. Matthew recently visited Joel’s Basement Record Library to play some records and talk.

This is a great listen. I love these records, and all the guys who made them. Brothers Robbie and Tommy Dunbar’s guitar playing still amaze and inspire me to this day. This is power pop at its best. Have a listen at:

Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola Pucker and Get Not Behind

One of the best album titles in recent memory is Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola’s “Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead.” It’s also a hugely entertaining work of virtuosity from two hard working and dedicated musicians. I had the pleasure of seeing this amazing duo in concert at The Independent SF in December. Touring the west coast on the heels of their latest record, “Pucker,” they played two full sets of instrumental music which were as musically astonishing as they were joyous and fun. No opening act, packed house, and these guys held the room from beginning to end. Between sets and after the encore, who manned the merch table? Charlie and Scott. They greeted everyone kindly, and when we spoke with Charlie before the show he gave us each our own Pucker Lip Balm. Here is proof:


Charlie Hunter and I have been friends since we were kids learning guitar, listening to records and starting our first bands. Among his many endearing traits was this thing where he would laugh while playing – just something would strike him about what he heard or discovered, and it would crack him up and he would keep playing. I’ve often said that if you’re not having fun playing music, you’re doing it wrong. Let’s just say Charlie does it right. Same with his longtime drummer and collaborator Scott Amendola, whose beautiful original compositions are core pieces in the duo’s repertoire. The joy that comes off the stage from these guys is contagious, and when I’d look around the crowd, I found I was not the only one there with a smile bigger than my face. Charlie still cracks himself up while he’s playing. We left this concert feeling happy and uplifted. I don’t know what more you can ask for in a show.

Here’s a tune from “Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead” called Blind Arthur:

You can hear more, order their vinyl albums, and learn about their show dates and other projects at and

Here’s a lo-fi cell phone shot of the hi-fi proceedings: